Thursday, July 24, 2014

Some Recent Reading...

Just a few words about the last five books I've read.
The Sea, by John Banville. I can never get enough of this guy's writing. The Sea won the Man Booker Prize [2005] and I finally got around to reading it. It is written in a first-person memoir style -- the story of an aging man who has just lost his wife to cancer. He returns to the seaside resort where he spent his formative years as a child and there reminisces about his first loves, trying to make sense of his present via reviewing the past. It is a deeply moving novel and probably my favourite among the many Banville books I have read.
Room, by Emma Donoghue. Five-year old Jack and his mother are imprisoned in an 11' X 11' shed in the backyard of the psycho-pervert who abducted her.  "Ma" has been in there for seven years and the outside world has given up the search for her. Due to her abductor's… visits, she has given birth to Jack while in her confinement, and the only world he knows is that of "Room". The story is told in his voice, and at first I felt like I was going to really get sick of the baby talk, and everything being seen from his perspective. But amazingly, the thing really takes off and we get to know the backstory in unexpected ways. Ma concocts an escape plan -- but it can only be successful through her son Jack as the principal actor. Wow, when they set it in play, I literally could not put the book down. It's an amazing, relevant, but disturbing story. Riveting, and all-too believable. Not recommended for claustrophobics.
The Sea Is My Brother, by Jack Kerouac. My first Kerouac book happens to also be his first one. This is considered a "lost" novel, written when Kerouac was a mere 21 years of age. It's the story of two adventurous guys who sign up with the Merchant Marines. It's got that whole Kerouacian "let's run away from the world of responsibilities and see how much booze we can drink and how many parties we can attend" feel to it. It was fun to read, but not something I am about to croon about. Maybe I need to read some of the later Kerouac to appreciate him better.
When Nietzsche Wept, by Irvin D. Yalom. Oh, truly a great book, my favourite of the five shown here. In 19th Century Vienna, Josef Breuer, one of the founding fathers of psychoanalysis [a real life person] is approached by a beautiful woman with a strange request. She wants him to counsel a friend of hers who is lost in a state of suicidal depression. The friend is none other than Friedrich Nietzsche. And wow is he depressed! The meeting takes place, and all the while Nietzsche is not aware that it has been all arranged and orchestrated by his friend. The reader is aware that this all takes place at a time when psychoanalysis [or "the talking method"] was not practised. And an interesting thing happens. It turns out that the doctor, [Breuer] has some very debilitating  issues of his own to deal with. And as he begins to divulge these to Nietzsche, the tables are quickly turned. The doctor becomes the patient. And a friendship is born. Now Breuer is fraught with the knowledge of the duplicity behind it all, in its beginnings. Each man receives what they need in the way of wisdom and counsel, by way of the friendship that develops. It's a very worthwhile story, with cameo appearances by none other than Sigmund Freud. It makes me want to read everything Yalom has written, or is writing.
Prodigal Summer, by Barbara Kingsolver. I think she is one of the best writers out there today. The book "weaves together three stories of human love within a larger tapestry of lives inhabiting the forested mountains and struggling small farms of southern Appalachia." I took that from the dust jacket. Kingsolver, a biologist, always laces her novels with gorgeous descriptions of nature -- natural things, in the wild -- and this book is no exception. Sorry to be so vague about the book itself, but maybe I will just end with this -- "I really liked it."

*****

7 comments:

Stefanie said...

Some good reading! I have not heard of the Yolam book but I am intrigued by what you say about it!

Melwyk said...

Very interesting choices! I have one Yalom novel but haven't yet read it; this one sounds fascinating, thanks for the review. As for Kerouac...I've never warmed to him. I give him my rare "over rated" tag.

Alyce said...

I hadn't heard of the Nietzsche book prior to this post, and wouldn't have been drawn to it without your praises of the story.

Cipriano said...

I am glad that everyone so far has responded to the Yalom book, because really, I cannot over-emphasize how much I enjoyed it. I can confidently say I highly recommend it.

Brona Joy said...

I've read and loved 2 or 3 Yalom's novels, but the Nietzche one is on my TBR pile - your review makes me want to revisit all his stuff again.

I also found Room disturbing and unputdownable.

The Sea sounds like my kind of book too - thanks :-)

bookertalk.com said...

Great to find another fan of The Sea. It was the first Banville book I had read and really loved it. Have you read any of his Benjamin Black series?

Rebecca Hussey said...

I've been meaning to read Banville forever! The Sea is one of the ones I'd like to get to. Must get reading....